In the last few weeks, first Sleater-Kinney and now Bruce Springsteen released remastered versions of their old albums (all of them, in the case of S-K, the early ones in the case of Bruce). I wrote about the Sleater-Kinney box in a roundabout way last month, but I don’t think I’ve explained exactly why I bought that set. I grabbed all of the remasters separately, so if you want to be picky, you could say I didn’t really buy the box (and I skipped The Woods, which wasn’t remastered). Robert Christgau asked me why I’d bought those albums when I already owned them, and I said I just liked being able to send some money their way when I had it to spare. (A few days later, they ended their hiatus, announcing a new album and tour, so I guess I’ll be spending S-K money again real soon.) I also noted that I didn’t buy the vinyl, didn’t buy the CDs … I just bought the digital MP3 downloads. And I pay for Spotify, where you can also hear the remastered versions.
I don’t have a point here … I just ask myself what exactly am I getting, quality-wise, from remasters when I listen to them either via MP3 files or via Spotify streaming. To say nothing of the listening environment, usually the sound system on my computer (stereo w/subwoofer), sometimes via ear buds or in the car. Do I really think I can tell the difference between my original copies of Dig Me Out, and the compressed version of the remastered Dig Me Out? Probably not, which is why my explanation for why I bought them came down to “supporting the artist” rather than “improving the audio”.
Now, everyone knows that no matter how much I love Sleater-Kinney, my all-time #1 fave is Bruce Springsteen. But I haven’t yet bought any of his new remasters. It comes down to the same thing as with S-K: I ultimately care little about the audio quality, I just want to support the artist. Since I’ve seen Bruce in concert 35 times, and bought all of his albums, often in multiple formats, and all of his videos (first on VHS, then DVD, and now Blu-ray), I know I’ve spent more money on Bruce Springsteen than I have on any other musician. I also know that Bruce has lots of money, and more power to him, I don’t begrudge him a penny. But I don’t think, “gee, I better spend money on this music I already have, to support the artist” in the same way I do with an indie band that I assume has a bit less money than Bruce.
(There is no easy way to work this into the post, but there is a fascinating interview with Jonathan Sterne about formats, which you can find here.)
Whatever music I add to this post will have audio that is compromised in one way or another. Yet for the most part, we don’t care … we just continue to watch/listen to YouTube. Which Google understands, since they’re turning YouTube into a streaming music service.
Anyway, I never once in those 35 concerts saw Bruce cover Sleater-Kinney, although one of their songs was on the pre-show playlist once. But I saw Sleater-Kinney cover Bruce, on his birthday, in fact, at the Fillmore in 2002. Two days later, someone recorded them doing it again … that’s Janet (sigh) on harmonica: